Symantec Looks to Take Server Virtualization Deployments All the Way with ApplicationHA

A little over two years ago companies were advised to “start small” with virtualization but “think big” and, based upon what we are seeing today, it’s clear that organizations followed that advice considering the wide scale adoption of virtualization that has occurred. But as they enter the “Think big” phase many are encountering a roadblock: business critical applications that they are hesitant to virtualize because of availability concerns on virtualized platforms. Enter this week’s newly announced ApplicationHA from Symantec that looks to extend server virtualization all the way to even these business critical apps.

Two years ago Gartner issued a special report, “Gartner Identifies Six Best Practices Companies Should Consider Before They Virtualize Their Servers”. That report listed “Start Small, Think Big” as the first best practice with Gartner advising organizations to take a two phase approach to server virtualization.

Gartner says, “The first phase focuses on server consolidation, cost savings and increased hardware use. The second phase is more strategically important, more complex to implement and provides far more value for the customer.”

Those organizations who heeded Gartner’s advice in early 2008 now probably find themselves somewhere towards the end of first phase – virtualizing the last of their physical servers – or in the early stages of phase two encountering one of Gartner’s warnings – more complex to implement.

This coincides with what DCIG has found in its conversations with data centers managers of Managed Service Providers (MSPs). They typically have most of their data center virtualized (anywhere from 60 – 90%) but it is rare that I ever talk to one that has virtualized all of the application servers in its data center.

When I press them as to why this is the case, they state that they are not confident that server virtualization can provide them with the level of availability that they need for their business critical applications. It is for this reason they are keeping these applications running on physical servers.

Symantec has also found this resistance to be prevalent in separate research that it has internally done but it also uncovered some ways that organizations are adopting three tactics to provide high availability for these business critical applications.

  • One, they are doing nothing. This is what the majority of those polled by Symantec have done. They are continuing to focus on virtualizing tier 3 and possibly tier 2 applications but staying away from virtualizing any application that is deemed business critical.
  • Two, they are leveraging VMware HA. Those few brave souls who have virtualized these mission critical applications on VMware are using VMware HA to provide HA for these applications. While this works fine in the case of the failure of the entire physical server or the virtual machine (VM) on which the application resides, if just the application fails, VMware offers no native mechanism to restart or recover the application or even detect that the application has failed.
  • Third, some organizations are leveraging operating system level clustering. While this approach works, it negates many of the advanced features available in VMware such as vMotion which is a major reason why organizations want to virtualize these business critical applications in the first place.

To help organizations overcome these objections to virtualizing their mission critical applications Symantec this week released ApplicationHA. ApplicationHA is installed on the virtual machine (VM) on which the application resides and does what VMware HA cannot do – it monitors the health of the application from within the VM.

In the event the application within the VM fails, ApplicationHA automatically tries to restart the application. If that fails, it sends a notification to vCenter so it can trigger a complete failover of the VM to another physical machine using VMware HA in an attempt to restart the application as quickly as possible.

Even if the VMware HA failover approach does not work, an alert now appears on the vCenter console that the application is having issues. This prompts an administrator to proactively begin to work on the problem rather than waiting for a call from an end user to report that the application is down.

The data center of the next decade is virtual and phase 1 in the transition to that environment is well under way and possibly even complete in some environments. But to go the final mile and virtualize their business critical applications means organizations need the right software so they can feel confident about completing this task.

Symantec ApplicationHA is a key technology to delivering on this promise. Symantec leverages its existing expertise in HA and application awareness, integrates with vCenter and VMware HA and it keeps its price very reasonable ($350/VM) considering that it is designed to support business critical applications.

It is for this reason that more organizations can look forward to completing phase one of their server virtualization initiatives using Symantec ApplicationHA and start to look anew at what further value that server virtualization can provide.

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